The Jacket

Garments created by Louise Bourgeois for her 1992 performance 'She Lost It' at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Garments created by Louise Bourgeois for her 1992 performance ‘She Lost It’ at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

THE TAILOR WAS TUCKED away in a small alleyway behind a brown, dirty door. It was hard to find him. Still, he had a loyal set of customers. The ones who came back, time and again. They came with requests for new coats or jackets. More often, they came with requests for alterations to old, beloved garments in need of repair, or perhaps a waistline taken out to accommodate a growing belly.

Klaus was one of those customers. He hadn’t been for a while, but now he had a piece of leather waiting to be turned into a jacket. Its quality was the softest, most buttery leather he had encountered. The piece had been sitting in a cardboard box for a couple of weeks. Tucked away in a corner under the stairs, he had avoided looking at it, let alone touching it. Then again, he had for the most part been stationary on the couch in his living room.

There he had lain, guzzling painkillers – he had heard that was good for heartache – and gazing at a patch of sky through the window. He had become closely acquainted with the small, erratic paint strokes on the window frame. They were his own mistakes from that day, years ago, when he and two friends had re-painted the apartment. The small recklessness he granted himself as the owner of the place. His friends had been more meticulous with the masking tape. These drifting thoughts let him forget his grief and abandonment for a second. Let him forget his new loneliness.

He stared at the window. He had observed the phenomenon of a perfectly blue windowpane while the adjacent one was a perfect square of grey. Strange how the cloud could have such an edge. Admittedly the bar in the middle of the window was quite thick. But still. How often did that happen? Proceeding with that thought, he realised he wasn’t quite ready to find out. As much as he hurt, he decided to pull himself together and get off the couch. A cup of coffee, a shower, some fresh air. Yes, today. He would make the trip to the tailor.

Showered and dressed, with a cup of coffee still in his hand, Klaus approached the box. He put the cup down and started unfolding the cardboard flaps, his stomach knotting like a shoelace. He swatted away the thought that perhaps he wasn’t ready quite yet. Opening the box fully, he pulled out the piece of leather. It was as buttery and soft as he remembered it. He imagined it as a jacket. He imagined slipping his arms through the sleeves and zipping the collar up high. His throat tightened.    

He thought of Lydia and wondered what it was that had gone wrong. He had felt her drifting away from him like the cloud in the windowpane. He’d just stood there. Until she collected her things, kissed him on the mouth and walked out of the door. The cardboard box had remained. It was filled with her. Her touch, her kindness, her skin.

He held the piece of leather in his hands and gently folded it back into the box. Breathing, conscious of the air entering his lungs, he stood up. He put on a pair of shoes and an old denim jacket, gathered his emotions and the box, and carried it all out of the door.  

He had visited the tailor twice before, years ago. From what he had heard, the tailor was still stitching pieces of fabric together under his bright light. Holding together his customers in fancy coats and jackets, containing their overflowing pain and their bellies. Indeed, those perfectly fitted garments never threatened to burst.

Arriving at the tailor’s door, Klaus pressed open the handle and peered into the cluttered room. The old man recognised him and smiled. Klaus put down the box on the wide counter and pulled out the piece of leather. The tailor’s eyes glinted at the touch. ‘You want a jacket, do you?’ In his mind, he saw another heart-broken customer struggling to let go of the pieces. Not all of them came with quality leather like this, though. He kept on tailoring as the customers never ceased to ask for his service. Life and worked ticked on.

A few days later Klaus went back to collect the finished garment. It was as handsome as he had hoped. He tried it on and felt a little less at loss. His sadness and pain padded and tucked away. The jacket made him feel like a better version of himself, and he thought, perhaps he could meet life again.

Back home he reluctantly took the jacket off and hung it in the closet. It occupied a chunk of the abundant space, reducing the emptiness that faced him. It was like Lydia was there with him, offering him an embrace. In his head he knew, of course, it was only the memories of her, but nevertheless it warmed him.

Gradually he resumed life again. Picking up work, going out with friends, playing squash. He always wore his new jacket. People complimented him on the quality and cut, and wondered where he’d got it. His eyes just smiled.

One night he met up with his friend Max over beers in their local haunt. On their second pint, the air felt soft and warm. The music and chatter filled every crack inside and out. Klaus felt at ease. The conversation flowed. After a while they both ran out of words and fell silent. Klaus lifted his glass for another sip. Max’s gaze followed the movement and then lingered on the upper part of his arm. His brow furrowed slightly and a quizzical look came over his face. ‘What’s that figure on the inside of your sleeve?’

‘Oh,’ Klaus said and looked away, the silence swelling.

‘It looks like the tattoo Lydia has on her arm, just there.’

‘I had it made. I just need a little time.’

‘Klaus, let go of her, she’s gone.’

The lightness evaporated.

Soon after, they both finished their drinks and stood up to leave. They parted and Klaus folded his arms tight and began walking in the direction of the bus stop. What was wrong with the jacket? It made him feel better.

And it wasn’t just him, he thought. He knew the tailor made good business sewing coats and jackets just like his.

Klaus needed the skin, the touch, the warmth. The jacket fit so well. He sent a grateful thought to the tailor, walked on, and hugged his coat a little tighter.  

Alexandra Cronberg is a Nairobi based survey methodologist and occasional writer.